Fante, John, 1909-1983

Alternative names
Birth 1909-04-08
Death 1983-05-08

Biographical notes:

John Fante was a writer of short stories, novels, and screenplays. He was born April 8, 1909 in Denver, Col. to Nick and Mary Fante. John graduated from Regis High School in 1927 and briefly attended the University of Colorado, Boulder before heading to California to embark on his writing career. In 1930 he began a correspondence with H.L. Mencken, esteemed editor of The American mercury, who published Fante's first story, "Altar Boy" (1932). Fante's early writings established the central conflicts and themes that would continue to characterize his art. The autobiographically-inflected fiction that he would produce throughout his life most commonly reimagined his struggles with Roman Catholicism, his family, his identification as an ethnic American, and his development as a writer. In the early years of his career, Fante wrote and published many short stories; a collection of these, Dago Red, appeared in 1940. During this time he also wrote three novels: The road to Los Angeles (ca.1936, published in 1985), Wait until Spring, Bandini (1938), and Ask the dust (1939). The novels introduce Fante's major character, Arturo Bandini, and track his psychological and aesthetic development. Prior to the publication of the two novels Fante met Joyce Smart. The two were secretly married in 1937. Joyce would be the greatest advocate for his literary career, not only serving as his first and most trusted reader but also saving the manuscripts, documents, and other records that now constitute the John Fante papers. It was also during the 1930s that Fante began working as a contract screenwriter for various Hollywood studios. Though he disliked the job and believed it detracted him from his literary career, screenwriting made for an intermittently handsome, albeit unstable income. Jeanne Eagels (1957) and A walk on the wild side (1962) are among the more notable films to his credit. Fante wrote the screenplay adaptation of his fourth novel, Full of life (1952). The resulting film (1956) did well both commercially and critically, the only such success of Fante's film career. He continued to publish novels, including one for children, Bravo, Burro! (1970), and The brotherhood of the grape (1977). His final work, Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982), concludes the quartet of novels often referred to as the Saga of Arturo Bandini. John Fante died of pneumonia on May 8, 1983 at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. Soon afterward, Black Sparrow Press began releasing new editions of Fante's long out-of-print works as well as several previously unpublished novels and short stories: The wine of youth (1983), The road to Los Angeles, West of Rome (1986), 1933 Was a bad year (1991), and The big hunger: stories 1932-1959 (2000). Two feature films have been made from Fante's works, Dominique Deruddere's adaptation of Wait until Spring, Bandini (1989), and Robert Towne's adaptation of Ask the dust (2006).

From the description of Papers, ca. 1925-2000. (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 646075338

American author and screenwriter John Fante (1909-1983) was born to a father who had immigrated from Abruzzi, Italy and a mother who grown up in Denver. He was educated in various parochial schools in Boulder, and Regis High School in Denver. Fante briefly attended the University of Colorado, but dropped out in 1929, moving to Southern California to concentrate on his writing. His most popular novel is the semi-autobiographical Ask the Dust, part of what became known as "The Saga of Arturo Bandini." Bandini served as Fante's alter ego in Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), The Road to Los Angeles (unpublished until 1985), Ask the Dust (1939), and Dreams from Bunker Hill (1982). His screen credits include: Full of Life, Jeanne Eagles, My Man and I, The Reluctant Saint, Something for a Lonely Man, My Six Loves, and Walk on the Wild Side .

Fante's depiction of Arturo Bandini as a struggling writer may be traced to his own struggle upon his arrival in Los Angeles, apparent in the letters written to his former professor, Francis Wolle described below. In a recent article "John Fante's 'Ask the Dust' grows with time," Los Angeles Times (April 7, 2009), Carolyn Kellog notes 100th anniversary of Fante's birth. She writes that "John Fante's literary alter ego Arturo Bandini strolls onto the opening pages of 1939's "Ask the Dust" with little to do, scarcely any money, even less to eat and a lot to say. He is a frustrated writer, newly arrived in L.A. as arrogant as he is self-loathing, struck by beauty and choking on fumes, lustful and cold. He sneers when offered something he wants despite the fact that he wants it so desperately."

Francis Wolle (1889-1979) taught English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He received his M.A. from the University in 1916. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army, serving in the infantry and conducting intelligence during WWI. Returning to the University, he became involved in the revival of the Little Theatre. In 1923 he took a leave of absence to spend a year at Columbia taking classes towards his Ph.D. He continued for the next several summers, researching his dissertation on Fitz-James O'Brien, work which was later published. He met his future wife, Muriel Sibell (another of the University Little Theatre founders), while working on set design. They married in 1945. Along with his work for the theater, for which he wrote and directed many plays, he coached the cross-country and track teams. He retired in June of 1957 and in 1960 became a deacon in the Episcopal Church. In April 1973 he was ordained as a priest.

From the guide to the John Thomas Fante Letters to [Francis] Wolle (MS 194), 1930, (University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Special Collections Dept.)


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  • Novelists, American--20th century--Archival resources
  • Screenwriters--Archival resources


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  • United States (as recorded)